How dumb is too dumb?

The latest round of Ulduar nerfs has sparked off a slew of posts about games being dumbed down and why you need to be a moron to play Warcraft these days. Gevlon blames social players, riding hard on his regular strawman fallacy that ‘the pure social sucks in everything he does’. Tobold sneers that the game is skill-less.

From my perspective, I still think that current raiding is harder than back in 40 man days. It isn’t really the instances fault that players have several years more experience in playing the game and have seen it all before. It does have some depth but not unlimited amounts.  The hard modes do seem to be providing reasonable entertainment for hardcore guilds while more casual setups pick away at the normal modes.

And when you boil skill down to reaction times, how good people are at watching several graphical effects going off around them, and reading strategies/watching videos – well, some people aren’t as good at that type of video game. Twitch is not for everyone. But WoW-types with their one-size-fits-all endgame are shoehorning them in somehow.

I don’t recall the levelling game ever being difficult (I certainly managed to get to level 60 when the game was new without ever really figuring out my class) so there’s no real point beating it up for that now as if something dramatic has changed. The old days when we walked both ways uphill through the snow to our bindstones were only ‘difficult’ because they were a pain in the neck. Not because they were actually … difficult. Now there are real advantages to having some frustrating content in games (immersion for example, and downtime for socialising) but frustrating is not the same as hard.

Can we just stop calling players morons?

I get that it’s frustrating to play with people who are dragging your performance down, but how about we just quit calling the people you never ever play with names.

Sente has a great post up at A Ding World where he compares MMOs to a virtual pub (ie. a relaxed hangout) and a virtual casino(ie. much more focussed and reward oriented set of activities, owners very motivated to keep you there), and concludes that he prefers the pub.

A lot of people prefer the pub. A lot of people don’t want to have to prove themselves to a bunch of hardcore elitists who will call them morons if they commit some serious crime like … ooo … having the wrong gem in one socket. They’re not morons, and they’re not necessarily ‘pure socials’. They’re just trying to tell you that they’re in for the beer and pretzels gaming and you should stick to your own kind.

Retirement vs Challenge

This week I have committed a terrible crime which I usually try to avoid. I read something cool in a blog post and forgot to bookmark it. So if this came from you, let me know and I’ll add in the link.

In any case, I was reading this article and the writer compared the ideas of Retirement Gaming with Challenge Gaming. This is simple but brilliant. The Retirement Gamer thinks ‘I put some work into this game and got some reward. Now I want to enjoy it by having the game become easier.’ The Challenge Gamer thinks, ‘I put some work into this game and got some reward. Now I want more of a challenge!’

The best MMOs cater to both of these viewpoints. And I suspect that most players, however hardcore, enjoy both of them. After all, the whole point of repeating raids is that you get them onto farm mode eventually. If you get good at the auction house, you have a larger pot of money to play with so you have an easier time making still more.

When a gamer gets a new shiny level, ability, or item, they want the chance to go show it off and feel uber. It’s fun to go back to a zone when you’re totally overgeared and take vicious revenge on some mob that bullied you as a wee noob. It’s fun to try soloing old instances after you outlevel them. It’s a very RPG thing to want to do. I did the same thing when I was GMing pen and paper games. In order for progression to be meaningful, the player needs evidence that they have progressed. And what better way to do this than to let them ease through a fight that gave them trouble in the past?

Who is really harmed if older zones become virtual pubs?

The question is, how many people really do want more of a challenge? A lot of people will say that they want more difficulty. But is it true? Gear based games have an easy answer to introducing more challenge – just up the health/damage of the mobs, or throw in some extra adds or a vicious ability on a cooldown. But there still comes a point where you’ve gotten most of the depth from the game that you’re going to get. After that, it’ll be down to twitch skills, knowledge of game mechanics and how good you are at finding X other people of the appropriate class/spec/gear/twitch skill/dedication.

And at that point, you may find that you get more challenge from playing a different game with new mechanics to learn and master. Challenge gamers in an MMO will find that their game has an end, a natural point at which the best way to find more challenge is to switch games.

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28 thoughts on “How dumb is too dumb?

  1. I am also uncomfortable with the “hardcore” and the “casual” (and casual = moron) simplifications and insults.

    It also does not discuss the issue at hand: The connection between difficulty/challenge and fun.

    I believe that currently many MMOs bore their players and just cannot shine because they are just too easy. Difficult enemies make players think about tactics to beat them nevertheless, re-think and re-evaluate their build/talent setup and it makes for more exciting combat and a feeling of victory.

    I once fought the very first Hogger before all nerfs with 3 people, and we still had to learn some tricks of the trade, our gear was bad, the mobs quite strong and Hogger a beast. That was just great. It also created the myth around the beast Hogger. It still exists, but the once dangerous Hogger is no longer dangerous at all.

    Nowadays you can kill Hogger with Shadowbolt spam. Things have become too easy!

    You are right that after a certain point new mobs just have more health, armor, damage. But you know what to do, what the mobs will do and how to beat them nevertheless. This is still a lot different to farming the mob semi-afk while watching TV.

    I also blame MMO designers. They seem to envision their gamers as either hardcore geeks or totally clueless noobs at times.

    • The other reason it might have been hard was because, like you say, you had to learn some tricks of the trade. I know I didn’t understand the idea of tanking when I first played WoW. Or what other classes could do. Or how stats on gear affected what I could do.

      You could put the exact same mob into the game now and I’d find it easy. But in many ways, it’s the players who have changed. Except that now you have a game that somehow needs to cater for newbies (I actually think they’ve stopped worrying about this and stuff like the mount changes is mostly to make it easier for existing players to level their alts and for players who have left to come back) AND people who know it backwards because they’ve been playing for years.

      Difficulty is … kind of a moving target is all. I like learning new stuff, but WoW can’t really offer much difficulty of that variety.

  2. The problem is that MMOs have to cater to the “one size fits all” mentality. In order to maximize profits, games like WoW have to cater to people like Gevlon as well as the “Social Weekend Raider Wannabe”. Unfortunately for people like Gevlon, there are a lot more of the other types.

    Ideally the people who want real challenge would go play EQ1 and leave the social people to play the nerfed raids in WoW. For whatever reason, that doesn’t happen. (As a side note, Gevlon would get giant kudos from me if he could demonstrate his economic prowess in a game that is a lot more brutal like EQ1.) But, I really wish people would go find and patronize games that give them what they want instead of whining about their game changing.

    In the end, I suspect that the reason people like to whine is to posture in front of other people. “Oh, yeah, this encounter used to be really tough. We were 90% the way through it and then it got nerfed the next week. My whole guild was crying as we collected our welfare raiding epics from the boss. Really! You kids these days don’t know what real playing is like. Now, get off my lawn!”

  3. You are mixing casual and social.

    The casual plays rarely, maybe in a “pub” way, but they harm nobody. The game is not nerfed because of them, as they don’t need raid content. They slowly level up, pick the flowers, chat, do some easier 5-mans, harm nobody. They are different kind of players than us.

    They social DON’T WANT TO PLAY. He wants to be liked, respected, accepted by peers. He want rewards because being in green stuff is not cool. A casual don’t give a damn about his green gear as long as he can do the next quest. The HC wants upgrades for to defeat the next boss/hard mode. The social want gear because he want to avoid being disrespected because of low gear.

    The casual most probably have no idea what “Immortal” is. The social knows it, envy it and want it.

    The games are nerfed because the socials won’t stay if they won’t get all the rewards (or at least don’t made believe that they will get it).

    The casual and the HC can live together as long as both casual and HC content available. The social cannot live together with HC as he can’t stand that someone is “cooler” than he is (even if this comparison is nowhere else than in his own head).

    The social can coexist with the casual as he plays more, farms more gear, so he feels entitled to consider himself “above” the casual (who ignores him completely)

    The casual is casual. The social is moron.

    • This is all true, and those types do exist. But you don’t allow for social raiders who actually are successful.

      And there are plenty of successful raid guilds (for some measure of success) where people care very much about being liked and respected by their peers and want drops because they are cool. It’d drive me nuts, yes, but not all socials are poor players. They’re probably not as good as they could be if they were more focussed but that isn’t quite the same thing. There are guilds which use peer pressure or social pressure to encourage their recruits to shape up.

      Then you get players (more like me I guess) who decided to accept a lower standard of play/ progress because they prefer the company and/or commitment involved. That’s definitely a social decision but I’d argue that it isn’t a moronic one — one can rationally decide that in game achievements are not as important as in game socialising.

    • The reason, Gevlon, that people mix these two is that your choice for definitions is nearly backwards of the words’ usual English meaning. That’s not an insult.

      “Social” means “hangs out with friends” and seems a better fit for “slowly level up, pick flowers, chat, do 5-mans”, whereas “casual” means “not serious”.

      Since the complaint is about a class of players who want all perks of raiding (loot, rep, titles) while putting “non-serious” effort into it, it seems like “casual” better describes this group than “social”.

      My personal choice of name for them would be “entitleds”, as they feel like they deserve boss-kills just for dinging 80 and finding the raid on the map.

      The other problem with using “socials” to mean “people who don’t want to try” is that you’re judging based on motivation, which isn’t relevant. It doesn’t matter why “entitleds” think they need to be able to one-shot Ulduar in 2 hours, because that same “I want to have a hot title and good loot when I AFK in Dalaran” mentality probably drives a lot of progression raiders. The difference is that they’re willing to work for their title/loot.

  4. Just more proof that a company needs to have the balls to make a difficult game to attract people who want difficult content and NOT nerf it at the first sign of whines from people who don’t have the skills to pull it off.

    SO many people complain about, let’s say … hardcore PVP and how WoW doesn’t have it, yet if WoW was to introduce hardcore PVP, i.e. item loss, experience loss, open PVP (kill you anywhere, any time) SO many people would bitch about that too … including the ones who bitched about PVP not being hardcore enough!

    People want the game tailored to them and I think MMOs fail when they try to accommodate everyone. There’s nothing wrong with filling a niche, especially when it’s a niche quite a lot of people want: challenge and difficulty.

    If I made a game that was supposed to be challenging all the way around, would I care if someone said “Well I’m old and I have a wife and kids and I can’t spend the time to learn this stuff?” No, I’d simply say “This game isn’t for you.” WoW doesn’t do that. They’re greedy, so they attempt to lower the difficulty so everyone can do it.

    Hard modes aren’t new content. Most of them are harder hitting bosses w/ more health that maybe do 1 extra thing. The fight is the same, you just have to survive longer or beat them faster. It’s stupid.

  5. I think the multi-coloured palett of wow-players is one of the charming things about the game. Too many people that are exactly the same = boring. Imagine a nieche game where everyone was Gevlon approved. Sigh. I would surely miss the dumb people at least. They make me feel smarter, if nothing else! Not that I believe that I’d qualify for those super-niched hardcore difficult games… But theoretically speaking.

    The socials, the casuals… either the more skilled and focused players realize it or not, contribute to the richness of the game.
    And if those people can be kept happy, roaming around in a few purple things, so what? No one is harmed really, as long as there are challenges around. And there still are.

  6. I really enjoyed this post, Spinks. I think you hit the nail on the head with idea that if people have finished the challenge then they should move on to something else. I think many people lack perspective and become very emotionally involved with their MMORPG. Developers are all about target the ‘average’ player and if you don’t fall into that category then you’re overshadowed.

  7. I remember that challenge/retirement comment, too, Spinks. I think that it was a comment in a thread, not a post in of itself, though. Maybe over at Tobold’s place?

    Nice article. :)

    I’m of the mind that an MMO really needs to cater to as many people as possible by having a full spectrum of difficulty for any size group, and for every bit of “content”. Let players decide their own level of risk (like the “standard” vs. “Heroic” option), and then scale rewards appropriately.

    In other words, let everyone get on with playing all of the content, but reserve the best *rewards* for those who actually rise to the challenges. (Maybe

    I’ll second Wiqd, though; more HP and higher stats is a dumb way to mimic “difficulty” for those looking for more tactical interest, not greater endurance.

  8. I think they’re in a bit of a spot with difficulty at the moment.

    Because they decided to make all the 25 man raids scalable to 10 man, there’s a limit to how complex the fights can become. Plus they wanted to make raids more flexible in terms of composition. It’s really hard for them to put anything like Vashj in now where there are 25 different jobs that need to be done, plus you need kiters and interrupts etc etc because it’d be so hard to scale down.

    So they’re doing their best with the hard modes, but it’s not the same as having specially tailored content and instances for your hardcore raid group. And the trouble with simply increasing health/damage is that it’s basically just a gear check.

    Personally, I’m in the sweet spot here because I’m with a casual raid group and we’re steadily working through normal modes, and thrilled that we can see the content. So I’m really quite happy that they’ve taken things in this direction, raids have become vastly more accessible. I also don’t think they are done with nerfs yet.

    But the encounters themselves are not as complex or as interesting as some of the TBC ones. So basically I agree, but in practice I’m content with the tradeoff; for the selfish reason that I suspect that people like me are the ones at who it was aimed. Really, the idea of being able to kill Arthas (eventually) with my mates and not have to chuck them to go join a hardcore bunch makes me very happy. I’m sorry it upsets others and I hope Blizzard can find something fun to do with the hard modes for them.

  9. Didn’t Blizzard announce that they were “Scaling WoW back to be a casual game”?

    And personally I stay away from what I feel are fanboy wars. They only hurt themselves. It’s like a civil war where no one comes out as a winner.

    Casual is known in the largest respect as a genre within the Video Game Industry. And as a genre, everyone is a casual gamer. Everyone plays casual games.

    In an MMO, the term casual is a fanboy misnomer, in my opinion, and nothing more.

    There are 2 types of players within the MMO genre:

    1. Those with more time but no money
    2. Those with more money but less time.

    I would add that there’s a third group:
    Those with both, but as a market audience and as players they fill both requirements so they don’t need their own category.

    Alternately, it’s my opinion that within that “imaginary” third group is where the majority of the “fanboys” lay.

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  11. I think part of it getting easier is, honestly, that we’re more experienced. When you steeped into Wailing Caverns or Deadmines the first tiem, you didn’t quite get things like threat or the optimum way your powers worked or what have you and it took you hours and hours to clear because you didn’t have a clue what you were doing. Now going through WC takes you 20 minutes.

    Consider that a lot raid bosses incorporate mechanics from old raid bosses, in many cases the entire mechanic, and you have a lot of people who know what they’re doing in certain phases.
    This was arguably part of the issue with Naxx which was that it using mechanics that, while a big deal at the time, are now part of every raid boss fight and more than a few 5-man fights.

    The thing is that Uludar bosses at least do require a greater knowledge base than any bosses we’ve fought before them, mixing together 3 or 4 types of raid content at once, Mmirmon being the prime example of this. If you went in there fresh, without a lot of progression experience, it’d be something of a shit. To consider this a bit further, though, are the pattern of boss nerfs really coming any faster than old content? I remember the AQ nerfs coming in pretty thick and fast. Or are people just bitching about it sooner because Naxx was fairly easy and people found a new thing to bitch about because of it?

    • Thought to carry it on a bit further, it’s not as if the previous tiers of content were that complex, once the strats were there. So I’m not sure exactly what people were expecting to happen.

      Most of vanilla core encounter design feature for raids was ‘Find 40 people with stable connections who aren’t functionally retarded’ which would get you through about 80% of raid encounters. Most BC encounters could be boiled down to ‘Be standing where you’re meant to be’ except for Sunwell which appeared to be ‘Can you find 5 members of the least played class in the game?’ and if Uludar is anything to go by, the WotLK them will be ‘Can you pay attention to more than 2 things at once?’.

  12. I love the idea of old instances as virtual pubs. I’ve often felt they should give little goodies like pets or mounts for doing the old raids and the like.

    But as Larisa points out, the range of people and interests is part of what makes the game fun, imo.

    Call me naive, but it’s recently been sinking in that a tremendous number of people who play WoW do so while: a) watching TV; b) tipsy, drunk, or really drunk; c) high as a kite; d) reading/watching videos/posting online; or e) all of the above.

    In my tiny, tiny experience (~.000043% of all WoW players is my calculation), those who do so are usually the ‘hardcore’ – and frequently behave like morons.

    As far as the social being in a totally different realm… well, being serious/dedicated/interested in doing the “real” raids and content but also valuing the social… I’m with spinks on that one. WoW can’t be my whole life (even if it’s becoming more and more of my life), so I’m not going to be ‘hardcore’ and raid for 25 hours a week. Am I social, heck yes. Do I know how to play and want a challenge? Also yes.

  13. There’s a cultural issue with the word “social” which I’d like to address.

    Gevlon is, I believe, Hungarian. This means that while he was at school his country was what the West refers to as Communist. People in Eastern Europe however did not refer to their systems as Communist. They called themselves Socialist, for example the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

    My knowledge of the education system at the time in those countries is gleaned from discussions with friends from Bosnia and Croatia so may not be an exact fit. But basically what my friends were taught, growing up in a socialist country were socialist values. Love your parents, be considerate of others, vote communist, work hard for your commune, support Mother Russia. All of these values, some of which are simply sensible human values adopted by almost every culture and some of which are ludicruous propaganda values which were taught to young children in order to help perpetuate the political system.

    Hungary never sat very comfortably under the communist yoke. Not only are they ethnically and linguistically distinct from the Slavic races which populate Russia and most Eastern European countries they also are simply not inclined to communist values as much as the slavs.

    From Wikipedia:
    “Hungary lost over two-thirds of its territory (along with 3.3 million ethnic Hungarians) [3] in the Treaty of Trianon in 1920,[4] the terms of which have been considered humiliating by Hungarians.[5][6] Following a short alliance with Nazi Germany during World War II, the kingdom was occupied by the Soviet Union which imposed a Communist government from 1947 to 1989. During this era, Hungary gained widespread international recognition by mounting the Revolution of 1956 and the seminal move of opening its border with Austria in 1989, thus accelerating the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungary

    To Gevlon the word social is tied up with the education he received as a child in which consideration for other people was linked to the now discredited socialist (communist) system of government which many Hugarians despised even before 1989.

    He actually displays extremely good social skills, I remember a lengthy conversation he had with someone who tried to join his pug but wasn’t good enough. He is adept at discussing issues with people in game and on blogs or comments and is an excellent communicator.

    Tobold calls Gevlon a sociopath I think at least a little facetiously. A sociopath is someone who has no connection with other people, so could for example kill someone with no more feeling than we’d toss a piece of paper into a fire. That certainly isn’t an apt or fair description.

    I think there is some problem reading what Gevlon says about “socials” and translating it to a western perspective. Most great guild leaders have great communication and leadership and a lot of patience with other people. These are what we in the west traditionally consider “social skills”.

    When Gevlon bashes “socials” I think at least a part of him is lashing out at the corrupt and greedy poitical animals who ran Hungary when he was a child. Those guys told Hungarians to work hard and drove around in limos, all in the name of good socialist government.

    Next I’d like to talk about Bartle types. Just about no one is 100% type A and 0% the other types. Everyone is likely to be at least a little social. So there’s no point saying “socials” are the bane of wow when all the achievers and 15-20% social and all the socials and 15-20% achiever.

    The very specific meaning of social as Gevlon uses it meaning tolerating slackers is something most people choose out of self-interest. In other words people aren’t in a social guild because they prefer playing with morons. They are in a social guild because they prefer the guild that allows people to miss raids sometimes and forget flasks than the raid that requires 4 times a week attendance. Playing with poor raiders is a price paid for flexibility.

    It’s certainly difficult to find the perfect match. One big issue with WOW is that the raids no longer train everyone to handle harder content. Many people in Ulduar have never researched a boss strat or a rotation and have never had to – they get spoon-fed. The problem I had with my guild recently was it felt like there was a lot of pressure on the officers but no pressure on anyone else. If I missed a night it was like “where have you been” in a guild where people on average played twice a week. We were very much a virtual pub but I had somehow become the person running around collecting glasses while everyone else had a great time.

    My ideal guild would be one where relaxed competence is the norm. People don’t need stuff explained or to be motivated as they self-start. Management is a matter of a few mild suggestions rather than a sink piled to the roof with washing up.

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  15. I hadn’t heard the term “Retirement Gamer” before, but it is an absolute fit for my own gaming style. The very reason I take characters through the levelling process is so that I will then be able to take them back into lower content at no risk.

    I don’t level up to play “end game” content; in fact I almost never use that content. I don’t like to be “challenged”; I find it irritating. I like to relax and play at a slow enough pace to be able to look around.

    Developers and designers tend to fill these worlds with an incredible amount of detail, most of which is impossible to notice when you are fighting through it at the margins of survivability. It’s very much more entertaining to come back later, when mobs either ignore you completely (EQ2), ignore you unless you actually step on them (Vanguard) or at least have the grace to expire swiftly when you give them a harsh look.

    I’d much prefer MMOs to be designed in the expectation that characters would develop to a fixed level and then just BE in their worlds. There could be plenty of continual growth in depth of content without this endless inflation in difficulty of content.

    • “I’d much prefer MMOs to be designed in the expectation that characters would develop to a fixed level and then just BE in their worlds.”

      Agreed… which is why I write about level-less MMO design on occasion, or at least a short level ramp with a narrow power band, and plenty of horizontal progress.

      • Level-less MMO design you say? Could I please get a link to that? I’ve been working on my own MMO and that’s an interesting idea to consider…

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  18. Interesting post,

    I’m genuinely not sure what I think about “challenge” gaming having a natural end-point.

    Most games of a particular type use a particular set of skills – chances are if you were good at Quake you’ll be good at Bioshock, if you’re good at Warcraft I you’ll be good at Starcraft II. There are plenty of people out there who have been playing – say – FPSes since Wolvenstein, and continue to find them challenging even though, when you get right down to it, circle strafing is circle strafing.

    The more I think about it, the more I think it’s a problem with the nature of RPGs. “Hardcore” players will – paradoxically – tend to do things the easy way (in the sense of always having the optimal group configuration, having everybody properly geared, making sure everybody has food buffs and flasks up) while casual players will do things the hard way (stumbling into Naxx in quest greens). It’s this, I think, that makes it impossible to cater to both parties.

    • I wonder how much of the longevity of FPS games is that you’re playing against other players. I mean, I could easily imagine portal getting boring once you’ve solved every type of puzzle the game has to offer. They could probably keep spicing it up awhile but how much more complexity can the game have and still be true to itself?

      • Part of it’s down to PvP of course (which is a feature of WoW as well) but not all FPSes have PvP elements. People obviously bought and played Bioshock even though all it required them to do was to use the same skills they’d mastered ten years ago.

        Of course the people who played Bioshock had the option of cranking the difficulty settings all the way up to the top, which WoW players don’t have (except through things like Hard Modes which a lot of people don’t like).

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  20. Blizzard is in a tough place in how to position WoW or any new game… I think any “niche” game will be stuck in a “MO” genre (multiplayer), and not the “MMO” realm that WoW and others inhabit. That means either the game will be crazy expensive, or will be doomed to fail.

    So means they (and we) are stuck with them making a game that will appeal to as broad a base as possible. I doubt that BC or WotLC would have been possible to develop without the infusion of dollars that all the new players (like me) bring in.

    Where would WoW be without those expansions? People complain (loudly) that the challenge isn’t there as we are now. I can only imagine the hue & cry we’d have without (or, more likely, dead silence because the veteran players would have left)

    So, we’re left with a TRULY “vanilla” WoW that does its best to appease the widest audience possible, and still keep things relatively fresh, new and challenging. I have my share of gripes with Blizzard (and with Microsoft with XBOX live) but for the money, there aren’t any better options (IMHO). The bottom line is that most of us still are happy enough, dummies and all. After all, we’re all still playing.

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